I recently preached on the issue of the beauty of ethnic diversity within the church. It reminded me of the essay written for The Mission of God Study Bible. The essay below was written by Mark DeYmaz. He is the founding pastor of the Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, a multi-ethnic and economically diverse church where significant percentages of Black and White Americans, together with men and women from more than 30 nations, walk, work and worship God together as one.
Following Philip’s evangelism among the Samaritans and the subsequent conversion of an Ethiopian (Ac 8), why did Luke feel compelled to mention the ethnicity of those being redeemed? The answer is clear: he is demonstrating to disciples both then and now that the Gospel, like the church itself, is not just for the Jews (Eph 3:3,6).
In Acts 10, Luke recounts the conversion of a Roman centurion named Cornelius. In response to Cornelius’s prayers, an angel of the Lord appears and instructs him to send for a man named Simon (Peter). Meanwhile, Peter is praying and has a vision of the heavens opening up with a sheet coming down out of the sky filled with various animals deemed profane by the Jews. A voice instructs him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat” (vv. 9-13). But Peter refuses to eat what is unholy and unclean (v. 14).
Later, in coming to the house of Cornelius, Peter sets the context for his arrival. He tells Cornelius, “You know it’s forbidden for a Jewish man to associate with or visit a foreigner. But God has shown me that I must not call any person common or unclean” (v. 28).
Historically it was an unlawful breach of religious protocol for Jews to associate with Gentiles. However, at this time, the Holy Spirit is writing a new law upon Peter’s heart, and he stands corrected: “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him” (v. 35).
As Peter then shares the Gospel with Cornelius, the Holy Spirit falls upon this Gentile and his entire household (vv. 24-48). The significance of the moment does not go unnoticed by the Jews. As Luke records, “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also” (v. 47).
In considering these early stories of conversion—featuring the Samaritans, an Ethiopian, and a Roman (Gentile) solider—it should cause us to ask, If the kingdom of God is not segregated, why on earth is the local church? Surely it breaks the heart of God that many churches in the United States are divided by race and class, and that little has changed in the more than one hundred years since it was first observed that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week. Brothers and sisters, it should not be so.
In Isaiah 49:1-6, the prophet links glorifying God and the restoration of a single nation to the Jews becoming a light to the Gentiles (all other people groups). Could it be that in our own day God is calling us to walk, work, and worship Him together as one beyond the distinctions of this world? Could it be that in so doing we will bring Him greater glory and be restored as a people of credible witness in an increasingly cynical society, for the sake of the Gospel?